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Posted by: Landry Butler on Sep 20, 2017

Head Comment: With dissenting opinions by CLARK and LEE

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

William Thomas McFarland, Kingston, Tennessee, appellant, Pro Se.

Attorneys 2:

Jennifer E. Raby, Patrick C. Cooley, and J. Polk Cooley, Kingston, Tennessee, for the appellee, Michael S. Pemberton.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andre´e Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Ryan A. Lee, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellees, Roane County Election Commission; Lowell P. Malmquist, Vickie Watts, Ralph DePorter, Celia Simon, and James Ryan, Roane County Election Commissioners; and Mark Goins, Tennessee Coordinator of Elections.

Judge(s): KIRBY

This appeal addresses the authority of a county election commission to make a factual determination on the qualifications of a candidate seeking to be placed on a ballot. In this case, the defendant filed a petition to run for circuit court judge. A registered voter filed a complaint with the county election commission arguing that the defendant did not reside in the judicial district and, consequently, should not be placed on the ballot. The election commission held a hearing on the complaint and voted unanimously to place the defendant on the ballot. The defendant won the election. The plaintiff, the defendant’s defeated opponent in the election, filed this election contest based solely on the defendant’s alleged failure to meet the residency requirement. The trial court and the Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint. Both held that the substance of the plaintiff’s complaint was a challenge of the election commission’s administrative decision on the defendant’s residency, governed by the 60-day statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-102 for a petition for a writ of certiorari. Because the complaint was not filed within sixty days of the county election commission’s final decision, it was dismissed as untimely. On appeal to this Court, we hold that, by necessary implication, the county election commission had the authority under Tennessee’s election statutes to hold a quasi-judicial hearing to make a factual determination to resolve the voter’s complaint challenging the defendant’s residency. We also hold that the county election commission’s decision to certify the defendant as a qualified candidate on the ballot was a final administrative decision subject to judicial review by common-law writ of certiorari. The plaintiff, who had actual notice of the county election commission’s actions, was “aggrieved” by the election commission’s final administrative decision within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-101 and, thus, had standing to file a petition for a writ of certiorari. Though the plaintiff’s complaint was styled as an election contest, the gravamen of the complaint is a request for judicial review of the county election commission’s decision, reviewable through a petition for a writ of certiorari and subject to the 60-day statute of limitations for such a petition. Because the plaintiff filed his complaint well after expiration of the 60-day period, we affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of the complaint as untimely.